Tag Archives: lulu

Make it Personal – Creating Custom Gifts Online

Last week, we took a side trip into supporting small, independent artisans and business folk online. This week, we’ll continue to gift-giving theme and look at ways to create personalized objects of all sorts.

What Is It?

It used to be that if you wanted to personalize a t-shirt or mug, you had to use expensive silk-screening to do it. Custom-printed holiday cards were only for the well-off, and publishing your own photobook wasn’t even an option. Now, electronic text, digital images and online business transactions have made highly-customizable cards and gifts easy and relatively inexpensive. We are all creators of content, and now we can share it more broadly than ever.

Remember SmugMug from our online photo post? Use their printing service to showcase your favorite photos through prints, puzzles, photomugs and other personalizable gifts. You can even print professional-looking photo books through SmugMug using Blurb, a photo-publishing platform. CafePress and Zazzle also offer custom-printing using your own designs and images.

Lulu (mentioned last week and in one of our ebook posts) will also let you print photo books, as well as calendars and text-based books. Rather than a simple “family letter” in the holiday card, send a photobook of the year in review. Share memories from a child’s year as a calendar for the next, or print your own poetry or family stories and send them to everyone.

Moo initially made their name by offering minicards – trendy mini-sized calling cards with individualized designs or photos – but now stand out by letting you create sets of cards or stickers with a different image on every one. Think of the possibilities!

If custom printing is more your speed, you’ve got a wide array of sources to choose from. VistaPrint or Next Day Flyers will take any text you input (or upload) and print it on business cards, stationery, greeting cards, sticky note pads and more. MakeStickers.com works on a similar platform to make custom stickers just for you.

There are many, many more options out there for creating unique, personalized gifts and cards out there. Just use your favorite browser to search for “custom [whatever you want to make]” and see what’s there.

Next week, we’ll have a short post on good ideas for safely purchasing items online, and then in December we’ll get back to our regular pattern of a new kind of tool each week. Thanks for reading, and enjoy!

Supporting Small Businesses, Online

This fall, we’ve seen a lot in the news about the need to support smaller local businesses and stop buying from large, impersonal corporations. Not everyone can occupy a downtown area, but there are things anyone can do, even online.

What Is It?

It’s easy for small, independent businesses to create a website and sell their productions online (like bunny slippers), but there are services that bring together hundreds of sellers and makes it simple for us to buy from them. Rather with struggling with their own sites or giant multipurpose clearinghouses, sellers can just set up an online shop and go. The service handles the website maintenance, the purchase transaction and possibly even the printing, and the sellers can focus on creating neat stuff.

Etsy is a “marketplace for buying & selling all things handmade,” and it gives artisans a place of their own on the internet. Creators put up their wares for sale, Etsy handles the money transactions, and then the crafters ship the products. Check out a few examples to see what’s available: Fancy Tiger craft supply, Grandma Flies a Broom vintage & antiques, Tiny Warbler children’s toys, Rocky Top Studio photography prints & cards, Have It Sweet confections, and many more.

Lulu.com is a self-publishing business and marketplace for creatives of all sorts. They use Lulu’s tools to format their content and turn it from electronic files into print, CD, DVD, calendars and reports, then sell their items directly through Lulu. The old “vanity press” is a thing of the past, and self-publishing is a way of the future.

CafePress and Zazzle offer a similar service for folks who want to sell merchandise to promote a band, company, event, online comic strip or anything they can think of. T-shirts, mugs, calendars, CD covers and gifts of all sorts are available.

Threadless takes a slightly different twist. Artists and designers upload their submissions and Threadless members take a week to vote on the designs. When an idea wins, it’s printed onto a T-shirt, bag, iPhone case, and more. Often edgy, Threadless t-shirts are perfect for the eclectic freethinker in your life. A related site is Society 6, showcasing artists from around the world and offering their art as prints, device cases and shirts.

New to the scene, Spoonflower makes quilters and fabric crafters around the country swoon. You can upload an image or design to their site and they will custom-print fabric for you. They also sell fabric designed by others, for whatever project suits your fancy.

Try It Out

Take a look at a few of the sites above and find a few things that interest you. You can use your favorite search engine to go looking for things you might want to buy. When you find a site, read the “About Us” section to learn more about the business you’re buying from. You’ll be surprised how many small, mom & pop type stores are now online and doing well.

Next week, we’ll look at some personalizable gift resources, and share some tips and tricks for safely purchasing items online. Stay tuned…

eBooks – Where to find them

In our last ebook post, let’s look at the many places to find ebooks online. Across the web, you can find ebooks for free and for pay, major bestsellers and independent works. Some authors give away ebooks and entice you to buy print, others charge for their ebooks and never print a page. You can find millions of digitized books from research collections around the world, or the latest from your favorite author. It’s all out there.

Through Your App

Whatever ereader or ereader app you’re using, there is a way to search for content directly through it. It might be as simple as using the search bar at the top of the screen, or it might take a little more doing.

Read through the instructions or manual for your device or app and find the section on Searching. Here are Help pages from a few of the more popular services:

Free on the Web

These are some of the many resources for finding free, often out-of-copyright books online.

  • Project Gutenberg is one of the oldest and most comprehensive sites for free ebooks online. In many ways, it has set the standard for public domain ebook sharing.
  • Overdrive is the downloadable media resource used by many public libraries around the country. This example is from the Boston Public Library, and you can look at your library’s website to see if they offer ebooks for download. You do need a library card for that library to download ebooks from them.
  • The Ebooks and Texts section of Archive.org. Includes out-of-copyright books from many research libraries worldwide.
  • OpenLibrary – an open, editable online library hoping to provide a web page for every book ever written.
  • GoogleBooks offers access to millions of books, either to preview or read entirely for free
  • WikiBooks is an open-content textbook collection
  • Authors like Cory Doctorow and James Boyle let readers download their ebooks for free. Find your favorite author’s website and see if they offer free excerpts or whole books there.
  • The Baen Free Library – a collection of free ebooks from science fiction and fantasy publisher Baen Books. The publisher of your favorite books may also offer some for free – check them out.

  • Many of the for-purchase sites listed below also offer free ebooks or free excerpts/samples. See if they have something you can try before you buy.

For Purchase on the Web

There are hundreds of other sources for ebooks and the easiest way to find a title you’re looking for is to search for that title plus “ebook” in your favorite search engine and see what comes up.

Next week, we’ll take a quick look at the idea of copyright, public domain and Creative Commons licenses on the web, and what that means for what you find to read, watch and listen to online.

Buying and Downloading….Anything, Really

In the next few weeks, we’ll switch from talking about online audio & video to discussing ebooks – a topic getting more popular every day. To bridge the gap between them, let’s look at how you can buy and any kind of media online. For a refresher, go back and read the LLO post on what downloading is.

Note: In this lesson, we’re going to focus on buying and downloading to a computer (either PC or Mac). Our upcoming lesson on ebooks will include buying directly from your ereader device.

The Basics

You might be looking for music in iTunes or Amazon, getting an ebook from Amazon or Barnes & Noble or purchasing directly from a band or an author using a site like Bandcamp or Lulu. The source really doesn’t matter, since buying from most of these services follow the same basic steps:

  1. Find the item you’d like to buy
  2. Click on “Buy Now” or “Purchase” or “Download,” or whatever button is the page
  3. Create an account with that service, if required. Enter your email address and choose a password that you’ll remember. Look for any ticky boxes that you can uncheck to choose not to receive special promotions or email from this service.
  4. Enter your billing information: credit card number, billing address, etc.
    Many of these tools will let you pay using PayPal or another online payment service. If you have a PayPal account, great! Use that and you won’t have keep entering your billing information. However, it’s not necessary – you can usually just pay with a credit card.

    Safety & Security Tip: If you are concerned, get a credit card to use just for online purchases. You can set a very low purchase limit – $200, say – to minimize any risk. This is especially good for buying from smaller, less well-known companies. You could also buy a Visa cash card or something similar, to use for very small purchases.

  5. Complete the order – you’ll usually get a receipt emailed to you
  6. Download
    If prompted, click on a “Download” link to start the actual downloading process. This might also start automatically.
    At this point, you’ll probably be asked to save the file(s) somewhere on your computer. You can save it to the Downloads folder or to your Desktop, or to a folder you’ve set up for media downloads. Sometimes, the downloader will suggest the right place for the file, but sometimes you’ll need to change the save location to the correct folder. Don’t be too worried by this – you can usually go back and fix things later if they aren’t quite right.
  7. Enjoy!
    Once you’ve downloaded the files, you should just be able to double-click on them to play or read them in the appropriate program. Sometimes you will need to save the files to that program (such as moving music files over to iTunes or your music library software). Just find the files you saved and drag it over the program folder, or whatever folder that program stores its files in. Drop the files into the program folder and you’re done.

Don’t worry – this is one of those things that’s confusing the first time you do it, but gets easier with practice. The most important step is to remember where you downloaded the files to. As long as you know where those are, you can sort out any problems later.

iTunes

iTunes is probably the easiest service to buy from, because it really does do everything for you. Simply open up iTunes on your computer, visit the iTune Store, find the items you want, click on “Buy,” enter your iTunes account information, and then iTunes does the rest. It will automatically save the files to the right places, and you can play them as soon as they’ve downloaded.

Amazon

Amazon is the next easiest service to buy from, because it does nearly everything automatically. Just visit the Amazon website, find whatever it is you want to purchase, click on the orange “Buy” button and enter your account information. The one difference is that Amazon asks you to set up the Amazon Downloader, a program that manages all your Amazon music downloads for you. The Downloader will save the files to the right place, especially if you use iTunes as your music library, and then you can play your audio from iTunes with no problems.

Amazon’s ebooks are designed to be read on their Kindle ereader, but you can also get a Kindle app to read them on a computer. Follow the instructions on the page to learn more about using this service.

eBooks & Audiobooks

Barnes & Noble
Audible (audiobooks only; now owned by Amazon)
Kobo Books (ebooks only)
eBooks.com (ebooks only)
Archive.org – a free site that works the same way as the paid sites

These sites all work similarly to Amazon, but without the Downloader or a Kindle app to help you manage your files.

Direct From the Creator

Many musicians, bands, authors and other creators will sell their work directly from their own website, usually using a service like:

Music & Audio
CDBaby
Bandcamp
Digstation
ReverbNation (also added to our list of music library services and internet radio sources)

Self-Publishing for Authors, Poets & Photographers
Lulu
Blurb
XLibris

All of these services also work similarly to Amazon, though you do need to move the files around yourself.

Help & Resources